Employee Rights During the COVID-19 Pandemic
11:07PM Mar 23, 2020
Hey, everybody! I wanted to jump on a Facebook Live real quick because I know a lot of people that I've talked to in the community. In general, there's a lot of fear about what the coronavirus pandemic means for people's jobs, and employment, and income. And, I totally get that. I talk to people every day, when there's not a panic, who are concerned about losing their jobs for one reason or another. And, so I think now's the time to talk about what to be thinking about in terms of your rights as an employee or even as an employer, what to know about how to be supporting your employees and making sure that when things return to normal, you're set up for even better success than you had before.
So, in general, and anybody who has other thoughts about this, post in the comments if I am missing something. In general, what you want to be thinking about is, in many situations, if a workplace is forced to shut down--at least in Oregon and I I'm only an attorney licensed in Oregon and I can't give advice about this, just in this Facebook Live, obviously. But, what you want to think about is: there are unemployment benefits that are often available. If there's a layoff situation, if you're forced to leave your job because of the virus, you want to look into these, look into whatever State you're in, look into what unemployment options are, if you're forced to leave.
There are also scenarios where workers' compensation benefits can be available if you contract an illness like this at work. So, for example, for a lot of nurses and doctors, first responders, people who are required to be in hospitals with emergency services, if they contract the virus, there's potentially workers' compensation support. The other thing a lot of people don't know about workers' compensation support, at least in Oregon, is that you can a lot of times talk to a workers' compensation attorney for free. And, they're paid through a statutory program. So, you don't have to worry about the expense of that. It's worth talking to an attorney who's an expert in workers' compensation benefits, if you have that. We don't do that at my firm, but there are people throughout the State who do that.
The other thing that you want to think about... I was talking with a client this morning, she is in her early 70's and she has respiratory issues already. She sort of has a compromised respiratory system, but she provides amazing services. She loves her job. She doesn't want to stop giving her services. And what she was telling me is this is just so overwhelming. She was feeling so overwhelmed. Just at the idea of shifting her services. She was afraid that her employer was gonna force her to go into work where she was like very afraid that she is very susceptible to severe symptoms from the virus.
She has all the factors of the virus making a big impact on her. And so she was afraid that her employer would be angry with her for not coming in, would force her somehow to come in. And the thing that I like to come back to, that I think is important for everyone to think about is: you have a duty to yourself to be healthy. You need to think about what the factors are, where you want to put yourself in this situation, how you want to take care of yourself, and it is more important for you to be healthy than for your employer to feel good about things. A lot of times it's not mutually exclusive. Your employer can feel good about you being healthy, but your duty is to yourself. You want to think about not making sacrifices of your life because your employer might be mad about something.
But, the thing to know about this is: many people like my client have protections based on if you already have a compromised respiratory system, you may have disability protections. People have medical leave protections, some medical leave protections are paid and some are unpaid. But you want to look into this and you want to notify your employer if you do have a compromised system of any kind, because that could trigger disability protections that could be really crucial for you keeping your job, getting restored to your job, protecting your career.
The other thing that I like people to think about, because we do this in my work and I find it to be so beneficial to serve our clients so well, is how can you move your work just as easily online. How can you do things online, stay connected with your work, stay connected with your clients, and just use technology to let you stay in your job? So, the way that I like to think about this with people is: understand the measurable results you need to create in order for your job to be successful, the essential, measurable results that you need, right? So, you want to think about that. And, then, you want to be curious... what if it was possible to create that result online? And, just spend some deliberate time thinking about how that would be possible. For some people it's way easier than for others to come up with ways that it's possible, but in many cases, it is possible.
So Roxann is saying "my employer, a small business owner is looking into layoffs to help us get benefits. I'm starting to look at unemployment because I know nothing right now." Yes. Look, call. You can call unemployment departments in your State, and they will answer questions for you. In Oregon, we have an agency called the Bureau of Labor and Industries and they will also answer employment questions that you have, about what benefits you might have, what sort of rights you might have in this situation. So, reach out, send emails, give phone calls, it is worth reaching out to people and finding out what your rights are.
I know, in Oregon, I was just reading that they are offering unemployment benefits even when an employer is intending to hire you again within the next month. But the layoffs give that interim support, and there are a lot of benefits available for this. Do not compromise your health or your safety in order to make your employer happy, right? There are so many protections that you have. And that doesn't mean that you have to be outside of integrity, or you have to be a jerk or anything like that. But treat your health and your safety as important. There are a lot of laws that protect your health and your safety.
The other thing that I see people do in situations like this is kind of isolate, get afraid, go to worst case scenario situations where either they're gonna lose their job entirely and never get back or they have to compromise their health and safety and make all these sacrifices, right? And both of those options are terrible options. And anytime you're thinking of only two options as possible, you know that there's sort of... you get in a stuck place. And you know, that you're sort of having a thinking error, right. There are always 100 options that can be successful to get you the results that you want.
So, reach out and get help, call the unemployment department, get a workers' compensation attorney if you do get sick, understand your rights as an employee, whether it's disability, whether it's discrimination.
The other thing that I've seen people face is that sometimes people at this point are facing race and ethnicity stereotypes and discrimination based on where people are perceiving the origins of the coronavirus problem. People are not dangerous because of their race or ethnicity, it does not mean they have the virus and if you face sort of discriminatory stereotypes around this, you have a lot of rights as an employee and it's important to know about them. If you want support, we're happy to talk to you about enforcing your rights, about effectively communicating potential disability, potential vulnerability to the virus. We're happy to help you communicate with your employer effectively. We do this all day long with people. We're happy to help you advocate for yourself. Just reach out, don't be embarrassed to reach out. Whether it's to our office, to the Eris office, whether you send me a private message... I'm happy to chat with you about what you're going through, or whether it's to these departments that will answer your questions of Bureau of Labor and Industries. Sometimes the EEOC federally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is another resource, on a federal level. They're sometimes hard to get ahold of though, so a State agency that supports employees, unemployment department, and workers' compensation attorneys, or offices like ours that support employees every day. Reach out, get any support that you need.
It is possible, through this time, to feel safe and to feel healthy and to continue doing your jobs. There are so many remote options, online options for transitioning. And then, there are other ways to advocate for your safety if you do want to be in an office. So, get support, don't be embarrassed asking questions and getting support, it can feel overwhelming. But, a lot of times, when we just sit and feel confused or sit and feel overwhelmed, we don't take action, we don't create the careers that we want. If you can just take that one action of making a phone call to find out more information, it pushes you to the next step of what this looks like for you. I have a vision that this is the opportunity to provide better, more effective, more accessible services for all of us. This is the opportunity to be better at the work that we do and more efficient, more productive, happier in the work that we do. It's not time for us to give up. It's time for us to really access the services we need, get the support that we need, and get the answers that we need.
If you have questions, reach out to me. I'm happy to answer them and chat. And, we can get through this. We can get through this and create something that is better and more productive in our lives. All right, thanks for everything that you're doing. And, stay healthy. Protect yourselves. Be safe.